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Sackfuls of loot

© Photo: Zuzana Kruťová (Licence CC BY-SA)Photo (CC BY-SA): Zuzana Kruťová

Sackfuls of loot

Ten thousands of Czechs clean up the countryside in their free time. Some of their finds are rather curious.

How is one to deal with chemical waste, asbestos, used syringes, or a dead rat in a plastic beer bottle? These are some of the things for which Zuzana Kruťová needed to prepare the volunteers. She is deputy head and coordinator of environmental education at the Horníkova elementary school in Brno-Líšeň. Along with her pupils, their parents and other volunteers she took part in a nationwide clean-up initiative named ‘Let’s Clean Up the World, Let’s Clean Up Czechia’ (Ukliďme svět, ukliďme Česko) on 16 April. It is a product of the joint efforts of the Ekosmák association and the Czech Union for Nature Conservation, which has been running the similar initiative Ukliďme svět since 1993 – in the spirit of the international Clean Up the World campaign.

Cleaning up illegal waste disposal sites

The man behind the Ukliďme Česko project is Miroslav Kubásek, with his app ZmapujTo (meaning “Put it on the map!”), which allows people to inform the authorities about illegal waste disposal and other issues in their cities and municipalities. “The sites we charted often weren’t being cleaned up by anyone, so we came to the conclusion we’d best organize a major clean-up ourselves,” says Radek Janoušek, the man in charge of promotion and advertising. The first nationwide clean-up took place in 2014, when 6,000 volunteers cleared away some 350 tonnes of waste. A year later the number had risen to 31,000, followed up this spring by some 78,000 volunteers throughout the country.

“Currently, our main focus is to raise awareness of the issue of illegal dumping through the media,” Radek Janoušek explains, noting there has been a significant shift over the last two years. “Indications of that are the growing number of volunteers involved, including politicians, as well as the proposed new Waste Management Act, which deals with the issue of illicit dumping legislatively, in contrast to the present law.” The second reason, he says, is greater awareness: hazardous waste ends up on illegal dumps also because people are not sufficiently informed how to dispose of such waste materials.

  • Dozens of schools, orphanages, companies, organizations, politicians, and self-organized groups have joined the project Ukliďme Česko. Photo (CC BY-SA): Zuzana Kruťová.

  • Among the more curious finds: a single ski and a hockey stick. Photo (CC BY-SA): Zuzana Kruťová.

  • A „bedroom“ in nature was dissolved; the mattress was removed along with condoms scattered everywhere. Photo (CC BY-SA): Zuzana Kruťová.

  • Spring-cleaning Czech nature (at the April 2016 event Ukliďme svět, ukliďme Česko). Photo (CC BY-SA): Zuzana Kruťová.

  • The great clean-up is a social event, too - presenting an opportunity to meet other students, parents, neighbors and teachers. Photo (CC BY-SA): Zuzana Kruťová.

  • It was also in reaction to media coverage of illegal garbage dumps that the Czech house of representatives introduced an amendment to the current waste legislation. Photo (CC BY-SA): Zuzana Kruťová.

  • Some pieces of garbage spent years or even decades hiding in the scrub before being detected by the volunteers. Photo (CC BY-SA): Zuzana Kruťová.

  • These colorful cables might make scrap dealers happy. Photo (CC BY-SA): Zuzana Kruťová.

  • A retired hockey goalie’s mask or a very large dog’s muzzle? Photo (CC BY-SA): Zuzana Kruťová.

  • Spring-cleaning Czech nature (at the April 2016 event Ukliďme svět, ukliďme Česko). Foto (CC BY-SA): Zuzana Kruťová.

  • In April of 2016, 78,000 volunteers all over the Czech Republic cleaned up a total of 1,760 tons of garbage - that’s 22.5 kilograms a person. Photo (CC BY-SA): Zuzana Kruťová.

  • Author Ester Dobiášová (left) cleaned up the Czech environment along with tens of thousands of volunteers. Photo (CC BY-SA): Zuzana Kruťová.

Spring and its hidden treasures

Tens of thousands of people, then, were bringing sackfuls of loot from the forests, meadows and hillsides of the Republic; comprised of plastic bags, styrofoam, broken bottles, worn-out clothing, punctured footballs, cups and other junk, in the better case. The project involved dozens of schools and children’s homes, businesses, organizations, politicians and individual groups, all keen to take care of the environment that surrounds them, in which they live, grow up and which they care about. They have joined to make a small, but not insignificant contribution to create a clean environment and tidy up the great outdoors.

“I joined in because I wanted to help the land not be swamped with rubbish, to be more pleasant,” is how a pupil of the Horníkova primary school in Brno-Líšeň described her motives to get involved in the project. Pedagogue Zuzana Kruťová brings up another side to things: “I like the fact that people are taking this initiative as being good for nature, but also see it as a social event, a chance to get together with classmates, other parents, for parents to meet teachers and for folks from the same neighborhood to meet one another. We also know very well that when children and adults alike look after something, or notify that it needs upkeep or improvement, they do not then damage it. They do not become the kind of individuals who chuck litter and junk. Instead, they spread the message.”

The spring months are the best for clean-up, “because all the garbage shows up after the winter and the trees and shrubs are not yet in leaf, leaving the view unobstructed” explains Kruťová from her own experience. “But it certainly makes sense in the autumn, too,” Zuzana adds. “Last year we found things like a 20-year-old milk sachet which used to cost two Czech crowns, a skating blade, a car body buried in the bushes, or an old suitcase. This year we put an end to someone’s outdoor boudoir, and took an old mattress and scattered condoms to the dump. Among our other finds were a solitary ski, or a hockey stick,” she adds to the list of curiosities they’ve managed to gather during the tidying up process.

“There was less waste to do with large-scale illicit dumps, which we dealt with last year. I have not seen them come back at these sites all year. This year has been marked more by scattered garbage, as well as illicit dumps in places we hadn’t reached last year,” Zuzana Kruťová explains, detailing the year-on-year progress.

You too can take part, this autumn. 17 September is the main clean-up day of the autumn phase of the project. All you need to do is take a look at the map of clean-up places. You may well find you can participate right in the village or town where you live and which matters to you. When you’re on the lookout for junk, you suddenly see where you live with completely fresh eyes.


    September 2016
    Czech Republic, various towns

    Ukliďme Česko


    Ester Dobiášová
    studied aesthetics and art history. A freelance journalist, she regularly contributes to jádu, the German-Czech online magazine initiated by Goethe-Institut Prague. Ester lives in Brno and enjoys discovering things unknown. During Ukliďme Česko’s spring clean-up in April 2016 she “looted” several plastic bags full of garbage.

    Translated by

    Václav Pinkava





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